Digital security tools vital for press freedom

On World Press Freedom Day, we encourage the adoption of digital security measures as a means to protect journalists across the continent and beyond.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

Written and compiled by Amanda Strydom.

The world has become a more dangerous place for journalists. The annual prison census report from the Committee to Protect Journalists said 2017 was the worst year to date for journalists, as 66 out of the more than 260 journalists being detained in prison worldwide were in Africa.

The 2018 World Press Freedom Index also paints a bleak picture with eight of the 21 lowest scoring countries being in Africa.

As state actors and corporate entities are becoming more adept at using surveillance tools and blocking access to information, digital security can no longer be considered a secondary skill for journalists and activists.

In Tanzania, whistleblower and citizen journalism site JamiiForums has been hit with multiple DDoS attacks to prevent discussions considered to be anti-government.

New media regulations require bloggers, online forums and streaming services to apply for a license and pay an annual fee of more than US$900. These permits can be revoked if a site publishes content that “cause annoyance” or “leads to public disorder”.

Journalists have been arrested, faced criminal proceedings, and investigative reporter Azori Gwanda remains missing since November 2017.

In Nigeria, ranked a lowly 119 out of 180 on the Press Freedom Index, journalists are targeted when reporting on issues relating to national security. The Premium Times in March this year reported that the State Security Service demanded journalist Tony Ezimakor disclose his sources after arresting him for writing a story about alleged ransom money kickbacks.

Another reporter, Jones Abiri, remains behind bars after being detained in July 2016 without access to lawyers or family.

Kenyan news media has also faced increased attacks with directives from President Uhuru Kenyatta to not cover opposition party events. Television stations were taken off air at the time, while journalists have been threatened with arrest if they don’t toe the line.

So what role can digital security play?

Phrases such as ‘two-factor authentication’, ‘VPN’ and ‘encryption’ conjure up images of computer screens with frantic green digits, but a range of tools can make security more simple.

Some tools listed below could be used to defend digital assets from attacks and keep your communication safe.

Project Shield

Created by Jigsaw, Project Shield is a multi-layer defence system to protect your site against DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks. It offers free protection for news, human rights and election-monitoring sites. Project Shield uses technology called reverse proxy to protect websites from DDoS attacks by filtering out harmful traffic and only allowing safe traffic to go through.


A project by the African Network of Centres for Investigative Journalism (ANCIR), afriLEAKS provides a secure platform for whistleblowers to leak documents that are of interest to the public to newsrooms. With this platform, whistleblowers can also communicate with reporters without revealing your identity or contact information.

afriLEAKS is also considerate of newsrooms which may be resource-challenged by customising the technology and deployment models to suit these newsrooms.


Deflect is an open source project by eQualitie created to defend human rights groups, civil societies and journalists from digital attacks. Deflect not only hides your server’s IP address, but also prevents any unauthorised access to editorial dashboards.


Journalists need safe access to information to research issues, communicate with sources, and report the news. Outline lets news organizations easily provide their network safer access to the open internet.

Outline makes it easy for news organizations to set up a corporate virtual private network (VPN) on their own server to more safely connect to the internet and keep their communication private.


The Tor Project has built free software project called the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI). It aims to increase transparency of internet censorship around the world by empowering decentralised efforts.

Ooniprobe is a free and open source software that users can run to examine blocking of websites, services and censorship circumvention tools such as Tor. It can also be used to detect the presence of systems in a network that may be responsible for censorship or cyber-spying. Ooniprobe allows one to collect data that one can use as evidence of internet censorship by revealing the location, time and identity of who implemented it.

Do you need help with digital security?

ANCIR is offering a helpline, technical resources, and sharing best practices with newsrooms and human rights activists for free. If you’d like to get access to these and more, sign up here to be considered for our digital security support.

The African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR) is an association of the continent’s best investigative newsrooms, ranging from large traditional media to small specialist units.

ANCIR works to strengthen African investigative journalism by improving the techniques, expertise, the tools used in muckraking newsrooms. This includes providing member newsrooms with the world’s best encryption and semantic analysis technologies, to forensic research support (through the Investigative Dashboard), legal services, and seed grants for cross-border collaboration.

ANCIR is incubated by and receives technical support from Code for Africa.

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